Disney World Partially Reopens to Crowds as Florida Sets Single-Day COVID-19 Case Record

Disney World Reopens to Crowds - Getty - H 2020
Kent Phillips/Walt Disney World Resort via Getty Images

The Magic Kingdom Park and Disney's Animal Kingdom Park once again welcomed guests Saturday; EPCOT and Disney's Hollywood Studios will reopen Wednesday.

A large portion of the Walt Disney World Resort reopened over the weekend and fans flocked to the park, which has been shuttered for months — all while Florida set a single-day record for confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus.

The Magic Kingdom Park and Disney's Animal Kingdom Park once again welcomed guests Saturday morning, and there were plenty of those who wanted to return to the popular Orlando destination for the first time since mid-March, when it was forced to close due to the pandemic. 

Videos and photos posted to social media and reported on local news showed that new measures in place for health and safety, such as a mask requirement, did not deter park-goers. At the same time guests were returning to the park, the state reported a record-breaking 15,299 new confirmed coronavirus cases Sunday, which marked the highest daily total any U.S. state has recorded thus far. Florida has so far reported nearly 270,000 cases of the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, and more than 4,200 deaths from the disease.

It is not clear how many people went to the park over the weekend. Guests needed both a reservation and ticket for entry. It is assumed the attendance cap was no greater than 30 percent of the normal average daily figure. According to the park app, no wait time appeared to exceed an hour over the weekend, a likely result of far fewer people being allowed in to best accomplish social distancing. The most popular ride over the weekend was Splash Mountain, which consistently had a wait between 30 and 45 minutes, according to the app. However, the ride did break down for a short while Sunday morning, and guests had to be evacuated. But it was up and running again by the afternoon. There was some question as to whether Splash Mountain would be reopened as last month Disney announced plans to rebrand the ride amid renewed outcry over its ties to the controversial Song of the South film. 

The remainder of Disney World — EPCOT and Disney's Hollywood Studios — will reopen Wednesday. The Walt Disney Co. has had a plan in place to reopen the Florida park since last month. But the reopening has not been without pushback and outcry, which continued over the weekend with a video Disney made and shared on social media that was roundly mocked and criticized. The video, which featured a number of Disney World staffers saying "Welcome back" among shots of the park, was altered by some to include music from horror films including The Shining. Another altered version of the video had voices played over the masked employees, all warning to stay away. 

Before it reopened, the Disney World website clearly stated all of the new measures and procedures being undertaken in an effort to make the theme park as safe as possible, which were accompanied by stern warnings. The "COVID-19" section begins, "We have taken enhanced health and safety measures — for you, our other guests and cast members. You must follow all posted instructions while visiting Walt Disney World Resort."

The caution goes on to read, "An inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present. COVID-19 is an extremely contagious disease that can lead to severe illness and death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, senior citizens and guests with underlying medical conditions are especially vulnerable. By visiting Walt Disney World Resort, you voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19. Help keep each other healthy."

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on July 6 backed Disney World reopening, saying he had no concerns because the theme park put a "premium" on safety. "Disney, I have no doubt, is going to be a safe environment," he said. "I think that where you start to see the spread is just in social situations where people let their guard down. Usually like a private party or something like that."

In California, the Downtown Disney shopping and dining district reopened to awaiting fans last week. The rest of the Anaheim resort will remain closed indefinitely amid the state's virus spike.